Dr. Ida, was honored by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for her work in the community. Dr. Ida Johnson was selected for the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame for her work with United Neighbors. Pictured below with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. April 2015
Ida Johnson, who has led a life of helping to empower others, has been selected as the 2015 Athena Recipient.
“My first thing is my belief in God,” “If you have faith, whatever you want to do, you can do it.”
Pictured with last year’s recipient, Mary Ellen Chamberlin, a personal long time friend and community partner.
Below as she speaks after her win.
Johnson, the founder and executive director of United Neighbors Inc., Davenport, was selected from six 2015 Athena honorees. Nearly 400 civic and business leaders gathered at Jumer’s Hotel & Casino, Rock Island, to recognize the women for their leadership in business and the community.
The daughter of a pastor, Johnson said the key to leadership is to “be a follower. If you can follow someone, then you can take the lead. You also have to listen. Sometimes you get your message across by listening.”
Johnson, who said she was honored simply to be nominated, has lived by the philosophy to always go for what she wanted. “If I don’t go after what I want, I will never have it. If I don’t ask, the answer will always be ‘no.’ If I don’t step forward, I will always be in the same place,” she wrote in her Athena essay.
Ida has had many honors including; the National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s National Achievement Award during 2010 in Washington, D.C.; the A. Phillip Randolph Community Award; the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award and the United Way Beacon of Compassion Award. She also has received the 2001 Power of One Award from Augustana College, the 2009 Iowa African-American Women’s Leadership Award, was named a 2012 L’Oreal Woman of Worth and was selected to the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame. She has received an honorary doctorate degree from St. Ambrose University, Davenport
I believe this picture typifies Dr. Ida as “she is always looking up, and keeps her face to the sunshine so the darkness is behind her. It is undoubtedly what earned her the designation by the City of Davenport. “Mother of the City”.
Meadowlark Lemon is a man admired throughout the world. When he received an invitation to speak at Dr. Ida’s fundraiser to benefit her organization “United Neighbors” in Davenport, Iowa, as is his practice he researched the organization and person involved in the request. Dr. Ida was pleased her invitation, on behalf of the organization she founded, was accepted. She was surprised when Mr. Lemon spoke with her privately during his visit and asked if she had ever considered writing a book about her life. He said while researching her he found things that should be shared. When Meadowlark Lemon asks the question, one does not dismiss it. His suggestion still resonates as she is now 72 and it is a time of reflection and consideration as to her legacy.
As a small child, she was part of civil rights marches accompanying her minister father. He included his entire family in the marches and sit-ins of the era. Dr. Ida shared with a correspondent that she remembers being “called everything but a child of God” as her family was spat on and shoved. She could relate to the young girl in Little Rock, Ark. who was the first to integrate the schools and had to be escorted by Federal Marshals. She had learned a great deal from her grandfather who told stories of accompanying his father into the south to steal “slaves” and bring them out to live free. Her beginnings with the white world were shaky at best.
As a young churchwoman, Ida fell in love, married, and had a family. It was not ideal and she was the victim of violent domestic abuse. In an attempt to save her life, she ran, taking her children with her to the state of Iowa. Forced to accept welfare and live in a poor neighborhood while fighting to keep her family intact and fed, she made sure it was as short an experience as possible. She began to bring neighborhood children in to her living room for games, and learning activities. From that humble beginning more than 40 years ago, she now has a formal non-profit that serves hundreds a day and she quickly moved off welfare, never to go back.
United Neighbors provides after-school tutoring programs, summer programs, “Juneteenth” celebrations, food and clothing programs and she is known as the Mother of the Central City. Her programs help access health benefits, rent, and housing advocacy. The hardest and most emotional contribution has come in these last years as she finally began to speak out on domestic violence and encourage young women to seek help and educate them on the facts that may save their lives.
Ida is courted by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and is an integral part of planning strategic programs to benefit the minorities in her city and her state. She is a strong woman of faith and holds leadership in her church, and as a role model for Christian women.